Pygeum

Pygeum has long been known for its curative properties, and is a popular herb to treat certain male health problems.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Pygeum, African plum, red stinkwood, African cherry, muiri
  • Scientific namePrunus africana, Pygeum africanum
  • Plant typeTree
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
Pygeum

Pygeum has been recognized in its native Africa for many centuries, owing to its immense medicinal value. It has only somewhat recently been discovered by Europe and is now a popular medicinal herb in the region. It was previously known as Pygeum africanum, but has been re-christened Prunus africana, so information about pygeum can be found under both names.

The history of pygeum is mainly medicinal, with bark decoctions having been used in traditional African medicine as a cure for male health problems, including infertility, impotence, and enlarged prostate. It was not introduced to the Western herbal medicine world until the late 1800s. Modern uses of the plant mainly focus on its effectiveness at reducing the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is the medical term for the non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate. Researchers trace these effects to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory
  • Key constituentsBeta-sitosterol, pentacyclic triterpenoids
  • Ways to useCapsules, Decoctions, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Pygeum

The anti-inflammatory and anti-edema properties of pygeum have found several medicinal uses, including:

  • Preventing urinary tract disorders
  • Increasing prostate secretions
  • Reducing the severity of BPH

How It Works

The main compounds behind pygeum's health properties are phytosterols and pentacyclic triterpenoids. These are responsible for the anti-inflammatory and anti-edema properties that are thought to be the main reasons this plant is used for curing the symptoms of BPH.

Significant compounds that contribute to the benefits of pygeum are tannins, amygdalin, and cyanogenic glycoside.

Pygeum's phytosterol beta-sitosterol is found in various plants and works by hindering the synthesis of prostaglandins, thus resulting in reduced inflammation. Studies have shown lower levels of prostaglandins in BPH patients who have been administered beta-sitosterol. The pentacyclic triterpenoids also help prevent inflammation by obstructing activity of the enzymes. They are effective anti-edema agents and also help increase the integrity of small veins and capillaries.

How to Consume Pygeum

Main preparations: Decoctions, tea, supplements

The bark is the part of the tree from which the most medicinal benefit can be had. In traditional African medicine, bark decoctions were made, and bark extracts are still used today in pygeum tea or supplements.

Pygeum Side Effects

Pygeum is commonly regarded as relatively safe, although digestive problems are moderately common after its ingestion, in particular nausea and diarrhea.

Culinary Information

Pygeum uses, both traditional and modern, are primarily restricted to medicinal remedies made from the bark. Although it does bear berries, which some animals enjoy, pygeum's taste, which is bitter and unpleasant, is not generally revered among humankind. Aside from the fruit being eaten by gorillas and some birds, there is little use for pygeum as a foodstuff. Pygeum's uses mainly lie in the pharmaceutical realm, and no other uses for the plant have developed.

Buying

Pygeum products are sold year-round in most locations in Europe, though it is more popular in some countries than in others. Fresh pygeum cannot be easily purchased in Western countries, but pygeum tea and pygeum supplements can be found in some specialized grocery and health food stores. Sold as tablets and capsules, pygeum supplements are particularly prevalent in Europe. Online outlets also carry a wide selection of brands and concentrations to suit individual needs.

Capsules are most commonly available from wholesale retailers or anywhere that herbal supplements are sold.

Plant Biology

Classification

A member of the Rosaceae or rose family, pygeum plants are tall forest trees that can grow to heights of 120 feet (30 m). It is also classified into the Prunus genus, which includes innumerable species of flowering plants, a few of which are very familiar; namely peaches, plums, and nectarines. Along with Prunus africana, several other species of Prunus also have medicinal value, including P. spinosa (blackthorn). The oblong leaves are glossy and dark green in color, and have minute serrations along the edges. It bears small white flowers in elongated clusters that are then followed by reddish-brown berries, which are usually around 0.4 inches (10 mm) in diameter.

Varieties and Subspecies of Pygeum

Botanists have not identified any distinct subspecies or varieties of pygeum. Prunus africana is sometimes referred to by its botanical synonym, Pygeum africanum.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleBiennial
  • Growing habitatHumid regions, Tropical rainforests
  • Growing time15 years

Pygeum trees are mostly confined to tropical climates, and their natural population has been damaged further by their slow growth – it takes approximately 15 years after planting for the bark to be used – and by the dominance of crash-and-burn harvesting practices in their native region. It grows best in moist environments and humid semi-highlands.

As part of recent preservation efforts, pygeum trees have been favored as part of agroforestry programs and as an alternative for reforestation. Pygeum adapts well if planted alongside coffee and cacao, which can also be harvested sooner and produce revenue until pygeum is ready to harvest. Alternatively, planting it alongside other faster-growing timber species can also boost the economic value of the land.

Additional Information

Economic Data

In the last 20 years, the pygeum market has seen a massive increase, and this large-scale harvesting of trees has driven the wild plant to be classified as vulnerable - that is, to the brink of endangerment unless the circumstances around its reproduction improve considerably. The pygeum tree has been intensively farmed for the European pharmaceutical industry, and because wild pygeum is becoming rarer, a commercial farming industry has been developed for pygeum trading. In France, the bark extract is particularly popular, and pygeum products are normally prescribed over surgery for BPH.

Pygeum is nearly endangered due to its slow growth rate and extensive use in the pharmaceutical industry.

Bibliography